Earlier this month I was able to attend a program honoring the 40th Anniversary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. It was held in the newly opened west wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. While the evening was mostly a celebration and remembrance of the life of Judith Krug, who is discussed in an earlier blog, the McCormick Freedom Museum was presented with the Civic Achievement Award at the event.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution; “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” guarantees all individuals the right to express their ideas without government interference and to read and listen to the ideas of others.
The McCormick Freedom Museum is a recent outgrowth of the McCormick Foundation which was established in 1955 upon the death of Colonel Robert McCormick the long-time editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune. Since its founding, the Foundation has been dedicated to the three passions of Colonel McCormick; the First Amendment, Civic Engagement, and a love of Chicago.
The McCormick Freedom Museum was opened as a physical structure in April 2006 and in March 2009 left its building to become a virtual presence organization. The Museum focuses on the five freedoms outlined in the first amendment – assembly, religion, petition, press and speech. As its web page indicates its mission is to engage citizens of all ages in dialogue regarding freedom and the First Amendment.
While directed primarily to the Chicago area community, it sponsors a national student expression contest, Seen and Heard, in which high school students can express their thoughts on contemporary social, political or economic issues through the following formats: editorial cartoons, film, photojournalism, and digital design.
Why are organizations such as the McCormick Freedom Museum important to individuals such as this blog writer who live many miles away from its primary action area?
The first amendment is essential to the work that I have been involved in since my first paying library job in 1959. The freedom to read is essential to a functioning democracy. By providing access to information and ideas across the spectrum of social and political thought public libraries serve a vital role in enabling all people to chose, without outside interference, what they want to read, view or listen to.
This right is always under attack from those who want to proscribe certain viewpoints or desire to limit access to viewpoints different from those that they find acceptable. Organizations such as the McCormick Freedom Museum are a necessary and vital force in the efforts to educate and remind all Americans, and particularly our younger generation, of the importance and value of first amendment rights to their daily lives.
So long for now!